Dean of the D-School
A new graduate-level concept raises MBAs' design IQ
Alisa Carroll -- Interior Design, 2/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
David Kelley, the force behind Stanford University's planned D-School.
A prototype automotive taillight developed by students in the class "New Product Development: Design Theory and Methods" at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley.
Preliminary conceptual renderings for the proposed D-School, which will house the country's first design-education program for MBAs.
A prototype magnetic bicycle lock developed by students at Berkeley's Haas School.
One of the student teams demonstrating its product at the campus trade show; it's a scooter equipped with a collapsible shopping cart on the back.
It seemed like a landmark moment: In fall 1975, then-chairman of Tiffany & Co. Walter Hoving organized a series of lectures promoting serious design study for business students at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The biweekly talks, given by the school's venerable architecture alums, including Louis Kahn, were bolstered by appearances from business leaders such as former IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson, Jr. All signs were that Hoving had seeded change at the prestigious business school—at least he thought so, until he handed control of the series to Wharton. The school never booked another lecture or even bothered to launch a related class.
"Wharton didn't feel aesthetics and design were intellectual enough for formal study. They just said, 'Let him explore it and see what happens.' But there was no intention of having it pervade the department," recalls Pratt Institute president Thomas Schutte, formerly an assistant dean and associate professor of marketing at Wharton.
Hoving's idea to formally teach design literacy to MBA candidates has since lived on mostly in a smattering of light electives at the graduate level. Introduction-to-design courses are offered at schools such as Carnegie Mellon University, University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University, which has also offered a conjoined master's degree in engineering and art since 1958.
Where they do exist, these classes do little more than introduce MBA and engineering students to specific design tasks— and to each other. "Right now, in individual classes, people from the business and engineering departments are 'dating,' but they're not 'living together,'" says David Kelley, founder of the design firm IDEO, in Palo Alto, and a professor of mechanical engineering in Stanford's product design program.
An exception to the norm is a course titled "New Product Development: Design Theory and Methods," at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley. Here, MBA candidates conceive, develop, and manufacture a product with students from the school's engineering and industrial-design programs. Products are showcased at a campus trade show at the end of each semester. Unlike Hoving's speakers, however, active supporters nowadays are grassroots. Amy Chen, who conceived a course called "Design as a Strategic Management Issue" at Berkeley's Haas School 13 years ago, was a student, not faculty.
And even these individual courses are scarce. A 2002 survey of 19 MBA programs conducted by Kathleen Formosa, director of undergraduate liberal studies at New School University, and Steve Kroeter, former chair of the design and management department at Parson's School of Design, finds that not one graduate program in the United States significantly addresses or incorporates design into its curriculum.
But things are about to change: Stanford's Kelley is picking up where Hoving left off by spearheading the creation of the country's first school dedicated to teaching design to MBAs. Tentatively called the D-School, it already has involvement from eight of Stanford's professors and a future home in the campus's soon-to-be renovated 47,000-square- foot Petersen Building. It might even eventually offer a master's of business design. For now, though, the plan is for students in the college's other graduate programs to earn a design certificate along with their regular degree. Kelley's proposal for the school and its curriculum, which he drew up two years ago, includes some of the unconventional courses he has taught at Stanford, such as "The Future of Games."
The creation of such a program is unprecedented, but a completed physical building will truly drive home the earth-shattering distinction between Kelley's efforts and those that came before. The fact that the school (and the funders it's pursuing) will invest so significantly in Kelley's design-as-business-education idea might be the spark that causes other schools to follow suit. "We want true integration for our radical collaboration. The building will give ownership to the program," Kelley says. The renovation may take up to two years, however, and Kelley is anxious for classes to begin before it's complete, if he's able to find a "temporary cool warehouse space."
Onlookers believe the dialogue that Kelley's Stanford project is causing can do as much good for the industry as the school. "Real-world innovation is produced through collaboration," says Peter Lawrence, chairman of the Boston-based nonprofit Corporate Design Foundation. "So it's essential to bring together a wide range of disciplines at the university level. This school is the essential next step."
Also, the tenor of the times is better suited to Kelley's project than it was in Hoving's day. "Had the 1975 lectures happened 10 years later, something like this might have happened," Schutte says. "By then, there was already more emphasis on design in marketing and products."
Other factors have helped Kelley's undertaking as well, not the least of which is the much publicized success of overtly design-driven companies such as Target and JetBlue Airways. Kelley also credits the academic culture at Stanford, which provided fertile ground for practicing integrative thinking. "As companies are coming out of an unprecedented downturn, they're looking for new sources of innovation," says Kelley. "And nowadays, design connotes innovation."
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